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Muffled by the Din: The Competitive Noneffects of the Cleveland Voucher Program

by Frederick M. Hess & Patrick J. McGuinn - 2002

School choice proponents have hypothesized that market-based education reform will compel traditional public schools to become more effective. We explore this hypothesis by examining how the introduction of the Cleveland voucher experiment in 1995 affected the administration and leadership of the city’s public schools. As of the summer of 2001, the program had produced virtually no visible effects. The voucher program has been relatively unthreatening during this time period because of its small size, its uncertain legal prospects, and certain institutional features—some of which are unique to Cleveland and others that characterize most urban school systems. We conclude that choice-based reform may not spur improvement in urban school systems, at least in the short term or when the programs are heavily restricted. The central lesson of the Cleveland case, however, is not that competition cannot cause urban school systems to change; it is that the timing and degree of such changes will be largely a product of the particular educational, political, and organizational context as well as the design of choice programs themselves.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 4, 2002, p. 727-764
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10896, Date Accessed: 7/30/2021 2:37:39 AM

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About the Author
  • Frederick Hess
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    FREDERICK M. HESS is an assistant professor of government and education at the University of Virginia and the director of the Virginia Center for Educational Policy Studies. His recent books include Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform, Revolution at the Margins: The Impact of Competition on Urban School Systems, and School Choice in the Real World: Lessons from Arizona Charter Schools. His research interests include educational governance, school choice, urban schooling, standards-based reform, and the politics of education and school reform.
  • Patrick McGuinn
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    PATRICK J. McGUINN is a doctoral candidate in American politics at the University of Virginia and a former high school teacher. His work has appeared in The Public Interest and Educational Policy. His research interests include Congress, school choice, the politics of education, and federal education policy.
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